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Attack of the killer Bs

LOS ANGELES --

Watch out, moviegoers! It's the attack of the Clones! Attack of the Scorpion King! Attack of the Crocodile Hunter! And now ... attack of the Eight-Legged Freaks!!!

Summer has seen a swarm of big-budget movies trying to mimic the campy excess of old-fashioned B movies, known for bare-knuckle brawlers, outer-space melodrama and gigantic mutant bugs.

The makers of these deliberately cheeky stories know their films are lowbrow and they don't care. Part of the appeal of these expensive B pictures is that they don't take themselves seriously.

"I'm not after respect. I'm out to have a good time," said Ellory Elkayem, co-writer and director of "Eight Legged Freaks." "It's a compliment to be compared to a B movie."

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In his film, toxic waste creates a horrific horde of gargantuan spiders that devour the inhabitants of a small desert town, following in the chewy, gooey tradition of insect invasion movies like 1955's "Tarantula," 1977's "Empire of the Ants" and the carnivorous worm thriller "Tremors" (1990).

"I'm especially into 'creature features' and thought, 'Gee, wouldn't it be cool to do one of those in this day and age with modern technology?"' Elkayem said.

The strong following behind those innocent, older B films has prompted some current A-list filmmakers to try recreating the flawed charm of the originals with state-of-the-art production values.

Some of those films have been outright parodies, like Tim Burton's 1996 comedy "Mars Attacks!" and 1978's tongue-in-cheek "Attack of the Killer Tomatoes."

While "Eight Legged Freaks" had a midlevel budget of $30 million, "Attack of the Clones" cost upward of $120 million. Most of the B movies of the 1940s and 1950's were priced in the tens of thousands, according to Weaver.

"The Scorpion King," which cost about $60 million, drew comparisons to Arnold Schwarzenegger's "Conan the Barbarian" (1982) for its muscleman barbarism.

But it also echoed the beefcake battling of older "sword and sandal" B movies like "Son of Samson" (1960) and "The Terror of Rome Against the Son of Hercules" (1963).

"The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course," a part-fiction, part-documentary comedy about real-life adventurer Steve Irwin, was designed to humorously mimic the 1940s' "Tarzan" serials starring Olympic athlete Johnny Weissmuller.

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"I love those cliffhangers, that was exactly where we were headed," Irwin said. "No animatronics, all the animals are real. And you get a bit of a laugh at my expense."

B pictures must have a sense of humor about themselves now, as opposed to the grave earnestness of the original films, Weaver said.

"We're at the point where we know there is no alien invasion," he said. "We know radiation won't turn an ant into something the size of a school bus. So to have these movies, there must be a spoofy, humorous element."

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